THE STATISTICS alone made it almost certain Wakefield Trinity Bill Tupou would make the Super League Dream Team, but the powerful centre insisted such recognition had initially not crossed his mind.
The West Yorkshire club fared well yesterday with three of their players picked for the mythical XIII that represents the best side in the competition over the year.
Winger Tom Johnstone – who is expected to be named in the England squad this morning – and second-row Matty Ashurst also earned Dream Team selection for the first time.
It is a sign of how well that trio have played that, despite Trinity finishing fifth in the table, they had such representation.
Third-placed Castleford Tigers, for instance, did not have a single player included even though they are aiming for a Grand Final place on Friday.
But the ever-present Tupou has certainly been a revelation, making more metres and more carries than anyone else while scoring 14 tries and creating another seven.
Now aged 28, it has been the finest season of the Aucklander’s career so far and the secret – he says – was simple.
“I pretty much set a goal of just trying not to get injured,” said Tupou, who joined Trinity from Canberra Raiders in 2015.
“That’s by doing the little things off the field as well.
“Most of the years I’ve been at Wakefield I was injured so I missed games and if you’re not on the field people don’t see you.
“I think it just came down to being professional off the field and looking after the little niggles after every game.
“That was one big achievement I was happy with, I played every game. It was a big target of mine.
“To be honest, at the start of the year I didn’t think about all of this (Dream Team). But late in the year team-mates were saying, ‘you might be in with a chance’.
“I was shocked, but happy at the same time so I thought maybe I would get in.”
It was fitting, too, that Ashurst and Johnstone got the nod in the vote – made by members of the rugby league media – given the trio form Trinity’s devastating left edge.
Ashurst, 28, was unlucky not to be named last year, but his consistency has been rewarded this time around while Johnstone, 23, has been a prolific scorer and made more tackle busts than anyone else in Super League.
Half-back Jacob Miller, who also plays on that left edge, had a fine campaign, too, given he boasted the highest number of try assists with 28.
Tupou conceded keeping that combination together for most of the year was important.
“It was big and was one of the things we looked at – to stay consistent,” he added.
“We had a little talk just saying if ever everyone is down we need to pick up and try to lift the team.
“We did everything we could to do that and I was stoked to see them both in this Dream Team as well.
“But I think our whole team has played well this year.
“We just need to learn to play consistently for the full 80 minutes and not in patches.
“We need to work on that because we’ve shown we can beat the top teams. We’ve got the team to do it.
“But it’s consistency; all those tight games we could and should have won, we need to turn that over.”
Strangely, Castleford were not the only Super League semi-finalist without a Dream Team pick.
Warrington Wolves, who visit leaders St Helens in Thursday’s game before Castleford head to Wigan the following night, also failed to gain a selection.
Predictably Saints dominated with seven of their players earning a place.
Man of Steel contenders Ben Barba and James Roby along with England trio Mark Percival, Tommy Makinson and Jonny Lomax plus Luke Thompson and Danny Richardson were all in.
Wigan second-row John Bateman – the third player shortlisted for Man of Steel – earned his first Dream Team selection in his final season before joining Canberra Raiders.
His club captain Sean O’Loughlin maintained his remarkable consistency, the England loose forward selected for the seventh time in nine seasons since 2010.
Catalans prop Remi Casty featured for the second time.
Meanwhile, Barba, the Australian 28-try full-back who returns to the NRL with North Queensland Cowboys next season due to “homesickness”, has revealed he may rejoin Saints at some point.
“As for coming back here, we’ve spoken about that and I guess when the time comes I’ll have to make the decision with my family again,” said the 29-year-old.
The 2018 Betfred Super League Dream Team is: Barba, Makinson (both St Helens), Tupou (Wakefield Trinity),Percival (St Helens), Johnstone (Wakefield), Lomax, Richardson, Thompson, Roby (all St Helens), Casty (Catalans Dragons), Bateman, (Wigan Warriors), Ashurst (Wakefield Trinity), O’Loughlin (Wigan Warriors).